Articles for the Month of October 2012

Amos and those Cows

Cow photo by jacme31

Over at 5 minute Bible I’m putting up my latest podcast in the series trying to find examples of humour in every book of the (Hebrew) Bible, I’ve reached Amos. The example I chose comes from Amos 4:1. Where Amos talks to/about people he calls Bashan Cows.  For a quick take on why I think it’s (meant to be) funny go there, here I’ll deal with the verse in more detail.

The image in the verse is rich in possible meaning. If we assume for the sake of simplicity that Amos is referring to the women of the elite of Samaria calling them Bashan Cows1 what does this mean?

In contemporary English to call a woman a “cow” is neither clever, smart or polite. Yet in ancient Israel there was probably no such rudeness. Cow might have intended:

  • to ironically identify them as wives of the leaders (see King)
  • as a term of endearment (Mays)
  • to evoke agricultural imagery of sleek well-fed cattle (Mays)
  • to identify them as devotees of Ba’al worship
  • even to identify them as worshipers of YHWH represented in the royal sanctuaries of Israel as a bull calf

so the expression in itself is not rude. Calling those (their husbands?) from whom they order a drink “their lords” in any of these understandings suggests their arrogance.  For cattle to demand a drink from their owners, or for women to treat their husbands as waiters (in a patriarchal society) is strikingly arrogant. For a worshiper to thus order a god would be to underline the depths to which their theology had sunk.

Yet none of this makes the image really funny. What does that (at least for certain readers) is to imagine these sleek well-fed mistresses of the elite as cattle, the congruity (the image “fits” descriptively)2 together with the incongruity (these arrogant people are like cows) causes laughter, and removes for a moment the cultural and social “superiority” of the targets of the speech.


  1. This is not always assumed, there are grounds for wondering if men were meant, but I think the use of paroh heifer/cow suggests the addressees are women and all the participles are feminine plurals, however the 3mp suffix on adon “their (mp) lords” does make a male reading of the “cows” possible. []
  2. Again perhaps not in the affluent West, where the rich are slender, but in poorer cultures wealth and fatness are closely correlated. []

Blogging needs Facebook

Mark Goodacre posted an interesting comment: The Jesus’ Wife Fragment and the Transformation of Peer Review? which linked to an equally interesting post Le véritable scoop de «l’Evangile de la femme de Jésus»: la transformation des normes de publication académique (peer-review), raising questions about what the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife saga may teach us about peer-review in the humanities. As often happens some interesting discussion of the post(s) took place on Facebook (WARNING you will only be able to follow that link if you are “friends” with Mark G). With blogging software trackback might lead a reader of the originalpost to Mark’s blog, but there is no trackback from Facebook… what blogging needs is a FB app that allows cross posting of comments (if the commenter selects this?) back from FB to the original post on the blog.

Facebook needs blogs for sustained posts that do more than tickle a meme, but blogging in turn needs a decent Facebook app!


BTW here are my comments (so far):

The media spotlight certainly impacted this case. But does it actually nullify it as a precedent, could pre-publication with public comment from interested parties (mainly scholars with an interest in the topic) substitute for or complement traditional secretive peer review.
There are certainly vested interests that will militate against such change, but there are benefits, at least for a scholar who thinks their work important, such a process would increase the “impact” of such articles…

Mark responded wondering if the actual HTR process this time was a good repeatable one, I replied:

No, but possibly a very light first round (basically just checking it “looks” scholarly with a skim read) then pre-publication, possible revision before the final decision to publish and definitive citable version…


Computer mediated collegiality :) The old draft: colleagues comment, publish… but with a much wider and less self-selected circle of “colleagues”.

NB for copyright and confidentiality reasons I have not quoted other participants, which gives a one sided view and over estimates my contribution :( a decent FB app would overcome that :)

Revelation for preachers (or ordinary readers)

He referred to this image (the first to come up when he searched for “apocalyptic”) which ironically couldn’t be more wrong :)

One of my ex-bosses (Paul Windsor) has a superb post on preaching from revelation. Understandably he overlaps a lot with Laurie’s book. But for a really short guide to making sense of Revelation (surely one of the most “difficult”, and most abused, books in the Bible) this post is great stuff.

For my attempts at making sense of Revelation try these podcasts.

Does not compute

It’s a funny old world. We all applaud the slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”, but we can’t take marriage for life.

Something does not compute.

I think it’s the way we have got the cart before the horse and think marriage is about “being in love” rather than about making love (not in the euphemistic sense) but generating and maintaining love over a long haul.

SBL Podcasts

Podcasting logoi from

There is an interesting (if somewhat restricted) discussion on the SBL’s Facebook page about the possibility of podcasting (some) sessions from the annual meeting.

The suggestion is simple. Record sessions (unless the speaker asks not to be recorded). Make the recordings available on the web.

The advantages are clear. Much wider access to this forum of scholarly conversation. Currently many of us are either geographically rich (i.e. we are so far from Chicago that tickets and time to get there are difficult) or economically poor (we simply cannot afford to attend) that we miss out on this means of keeping up with current and emerging thinking in our areas.

SBL has a fine history of making efforts to widen the circle, scholarships for attending the meetings for emerging and distant scholars are a good (if expensive) example. SBL is also developing a reputation for using technology to make access wider (think of e-publications and RBL online), even sponsoring open access scholarship. Podcasting (even some of) the Annual and International Meetings would be a huge step in this direction that would cost little. (A few MP3 players and a few days of work.)

The argument so far advanced as a possible objection, that some scholars might not wish their presentation to receive this wider audience is easily covered by making participation optional. The other objection, that people who might otherwise attend would decide to stay at home misses the point, that social interaction (not to mention book exhibits ;) is a big part of the reason people attend. I’d be surprised if numbers attending dropped significantly as a result of podcasting, and this year numbers are so high they have had to arrange extra hotels :)

Launching a book, online and face to face

We held the physical book launch for Not Only a Father in Auckland on Friday. I hope the others who attended found the conversation interesting, I especially appreciated both Sarah Harris’ comments and some of the questions that gave me food for thought, and the great way Andrew and others pulled a launch together.

Since the book is designed to be discussed this format was a really appropriate way to launch the book. I hope some of those there will take up the challenge to be among the first to comment, object or question the online edition :)  This online version is at (a WordPress plugin allows people to add comments, questions or to object to or correct things I’ve written).

People who have participated in the online launch since I last listed them include:

The Great (American?) Evangelical Shibboleth

This old MS Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 208 contains a fragment of the Gospel of John 16:22-30, it dates to the 3rd century, so though one of the oldest NT MSS we have it is not an autograph.

Many people, some of whom I greatly respect, make use of a shibboleth invented1 in the 1970s. The test is summed up in one word which when required to be affirmed about Scripture neatly distinguishes the Gileadites from the Ephraimites. To be on the side of Evangelical (with a very capital E) righteousness one must affirm that Scripture is “inerrant”.

Of course a quick look at any decent critical text of Scripture soon reveals a plethora of variant texts. They cannot all be “inerrant” therefore the claim is given it’s most significant escape clause. It is only the “autographic text” that is inerrant.2

My trouble is I do not believe in those “autographic texts” it might be that once there was an “autograph” of Paul’s letter to the Romans, though references like Gal 6:11 may cast some doubt on even this, but was there ever an “autograph” of Jeremiah? All the best evidence suggests that well before the book’s canonisation, indeed as far back as we can trace its history there have been (at least) two quite different books of Jeremiah (represented today more or less by the MT and the LXX) both of which have been held as Scripture by orthodox Christians (both Eastern and Western, hence the small O). It is likely (see Jer 36) that NEITHER was written by Jeremiah.

You see the very notion of the once, if no longer, existence of “autographs” is a modern invention, and the evidence of the Bible itself witnesses against it. No wonder I am happily part of a long tradition which holds such shibboleths in suspicion.

  1. I believe, though I am no historian of these matters and stand ready to be corrected. []
  2. See article X of the Chicago Statement. []

Introversion again

It is some years since I last posted about the ways in which our extroverted society is biased against introverts.

So, here’s a TED video by Susan Cain that puts the case clearly.

  • Stop the madness of constant groupworkthough  (not reducing collaboration and sharing)
  • Go to the wilderness (everyone needs to “unplug and get inside their own heads”)
  • Take a look at what’s “inside your suitcase”  and share it (watch the video to understand this one ;)


HT: Miriam Bier on Facebook.